Being Different and Better

Greetings.  Sometimes great companies make big mistakes.  It's just the nature of business.  And sometimes those mistakes are based on the best available insight and thinking.  But other times those missteps point out that even the biggest and most successful companies are bound by the same rules as the rest of us.  And one of those rules is the simple fact that success is all about being different and better in ways that matter to customers.

Take the case of Hewlett-Packard–a world-renowned business with a rich and inventive history.  The company's quick entrance and quicker exit from the tablet PC market illustrates this straightforward idea.  Tablets are a hot item, spurred by the popularity of Apple's iPad, and it seems that everyone wants to get in on the action.  But the iPad has, even with its limitations, set a very high bar in terms of design, technology, user experience and coolness factor…which makes entry into this market a real challenge even for other leading companies.  That doesn't mean that a competing offering can't ever succeed.  But to win it must be significantly different and significantly better.  Not simply a late-arriving "me-to" product that claims to "work like nothing else."  And that means either:  (a) being significantly different and better overall or (b) being significantly different and better in a more limited but profoundly important way that matters most to a large enough segment of customers with particular needs.

And unfortunately for HP its TouchPad is neither…which is why it quickly became a $99 "fire sale" item rather than a credible competitor. 

So if you're thinking about launching a new offering, think first about whether it will really make a difference to customers in your market.

HP Touchpad

We win in business and in life when provide unique value to those we serve.  And when we never underestimate the real power of innovative market leaders.


Time to Try Harder

Greetings.  Last week I wrote about differentiation and how an on-line appliance parts distributor was using YouTube videos to add a valuable service component to its product sales.  It's a smart idea and I received feedback from many readers who were struck by how this simple tool could help their companies stand out from the crowd.  The key, of course, is to be compellingly different in ways that really matter to customers.  And since this topic is so important to business success, I thought it might be fun to continue the theme by reporting on an interesting "non-event" that occurred at this year's Consumer Electronic's show in Las Vegas.  Needless to say, the topic of product differentiation was front and center as new technologies and companies battled for attention.  And, in a world in which change happens faster every day, there's plenty of pressure to create the next big thing almost instantly. Which makes Sony's entry into the hot tablet PC market a bit confusing.  Because instead of unveiling a remarkable new product, the company simply stated that it intended to be No. 2 behind Apple's iPad by the end of 2011.

It was an announcement that made a lot of smart people wonder what they'd been smoking. 

Doesn't this seem like "deja vu all over again?"  Because it bears a striking similarity to another huge opportunity that Sony missed ten years ago.  In case you forgot, or simply aren't old enough to remember, Sony literally invented the world of personal and portable entertainment in 1979 when it launched the Walkman. At the time it was a marvel of modern invention–a music device that enabled users to play their favorite cassettes anywhere.  And it became so popular that Sony sold more than 350,000,000 of them.  But when it came time for the world of music to go digital, this world-class electronics company missed the mark offering hardly a trace of competition to the iPod.  And now they're promoting what appears to be an imaginary tablet PC.  It's hard enough to win market share with a remarkably different product–especially when you're late to the game and the market leader is so awesome.  But winning significant market share with the promise of a product, and no sense of how it might be remarkably different, doesn't seem like a winning proposition.

Is it possible that the dog ate their homework?


We win in business and in life when we are really different in ways that matter to customers.  But first we have to be real.